The Experience

Mutum Bindiyarani *

 Tiddim road towards Bishenpur  in 2011
Tiddim road towards Bishenpur in 2011 :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

Being brought up in a city-like town ('city like' because that was the only town in the state), it was always an interesting experience to go to my father's village about 25kms away from the city. If you lived in a small state like mine, you'll definitely know the difference of 2 kms, which is not much for the big city dwellers as I've come to realize now that I study in a metro city, but in those days, as a 13 year old, the frog in the tiniest pond, it made a lot of difference.

I am from Imphal, the capital city of a small state in the border of the country called Manipur in Northeast India. It is inhabited by approximately 2 million people, the last time I checked in Wikipedia, which was not a very long time ago.

More popular for her constant "disturbance" (underground activities and rebels), Manipur is a small state also known for her sport-persons representing the nation in recent times, our dear Mary Kom if one can recall. What one doesn't know is that if you get past the hard walnut shell, you can get to see the delicate breadth-taking scenery and exotic culture of the State.

My father being a non practicing doctor had a lot of time for the five of us. Growing up, he was my best friend and guide. He was for there all of us, other than my brother, who, as usual for all the male species, was closer to my mother, a nurse in the same hospital where dad worked.

I was just about to turn 13 when my grandfather fell sick and was admitted in the hospital where my parents worked. He was admitted to the ICCU (Intensive coronary care unit) after a severe heart attack. And I can proudly tell you that I did not have to "google" ICCU because the five of us were well hospital-educated. Biology ran in the blood, although it might be amusing if I tell you that other than my eldest sister, the other four of us ended in engineering. and architecture field, myself belonging to the later.

What more can be expected when you happen to be a premature baby who also happens to be "cold-allergic" is born in the region where average temperature remains below 20 degrees? You fall sick most days, and get to bunk school and home work most of the time!

Now that I've finished giving all the background information required for anyone to understand this story, it'll be better for me to get back to the topic before one gets bored of this rant.

My father's native place is a village named Oinam. And reaching there used to take around 50 mins. Although it was only 20kms far and considering that we travelled in our personal car, the pit stops in between for the customary fruits and medicines mom and dad used to buy for everyone, took us quite some time.

There was a general conception that the 'doctor son' -the city-dweller, would generally come loaded with tablets and bottles of sweet medicines everytime he'd come to visit and also conduct a pseudo medical camp. Our visit would generally begin with my mom waking me up from my nap, dad used to drive "nap-speed", as he used to say, sliding along the road. But to be honest, he could also pull off nasty driving, when he would drop us for tuitions, my friends used to call him F1 uncle.

We would be ushered into the small mud bamboo house of my grandparents where my grandmother would serve us tea. It would come from the kitchen, 'come' because the kitchen, as according to the old customs of our people, would be constructed separately from the house, and in our case, it was about 15m away from the house with a vegetable patch in between. There was also a "sangoi" a covered semi open structure customarily utilized for the family functions and an entertainment space for visitors.

Grandmother would prepared lunch, consisting of rice, Dal, fresh water fish and usually a chilli "chutney". She was an amazing cook, even my mother used to admit it, which is quite something she rarely does.

Let me clarify something here, we do not eat snakes and frogs, a common misconception among my main land Indian friends. An irony, if you considered the fact that we are Hindu, we live in India, beside that we call them "Indians", because the evolutionary road gave us shorter noses and smaller eyes and fairer skin, we are called mongoloids or in the common language, "chinky".

This was the general norm which would be followed. We'd have the scrumptious meal, roam around the vegetable patches and bamboo groves in awe… And sometimes if we were lucky to find our uncle at home, we would be taken out to the fish farms, 'lucky' because it involved a boat-ride down the stream across the fields, in which my hydro-phobic sister would scream and shout in the canoe, if we happened to 'accidentally' rock it sideways. :P

As a city girl, I rarely knew village life.

This little fact changed when I (sad but true) had a weeklong stay there for the ceremonial activities when my grandfather passed away. Honestly, I never knew my grandfather on the personal front other than the stories about him I hear from my eldest sister who is 10 yrs older than me. More so because she was brought up by my grandparents until she was in primary school.

An imbedded idea of the state to outsiders is that it is a hilly region and it takes hours of explanation for them to realise that although it basically is a hill country, beyond the mythical 7 layers of hill lies the plateau of Imphal, Moirang, where there is one of the largest fresh water lake of northeast in which ancient gods would boat in their canoes. With a view of distant hills all around the landscape and a few tall buildings dotting the town-scape, where one can actually see the shadows of clouds on the stark green hills.

I was woken up from my slumber at 4 a.m in the morning by my mother. As I clambered out from the cramped up bed where 4 of us were sleeping, I saw there was only a faint light. There was no electricity the whole day, as I came to know later, except for 2hrs during the day, during which the families with inverters would charge the batteries and children would watch some cartoon network. Those days, there were no disney xd or pogo or anything as such.

As my mother dragged me and my sister out from the bed to the backyard, the horror I felt , is still etched in my mind, when I saw 2-3 bedsheets hung near the tap to make up for the non-existent permanent bathroom and a bucket of boiling hot water next to it.

There would be visible steam coming out of our mouths and blocked noses as we came back to the hut trembling and with chattering teeth at 6 degrees in the early January morning. There was a small iron pot that we call 'meiphu" containing burning charcoal around which every living organism with a working brain would be huddled, including the house cat. One would think a feline lover like me, would naturally sit near the cat, but I was showering more love, I deposited it on my lap to give myself a little more space but also cheating the heat out of the warm and cuddly cat.

Tea would be made in large pots and being the youngest in the family made me responsible to serve it to the guest and family. Carrying a tray of assorted glasses and cups around, bare feet, on the frozen mud floor, seemed to awaken a lot of nerve cells I earlier never knew existed but at the sometime ceased their existence due to extensive walking and catering. For the first time in my life, I learnt the value of a half glass of hot tea which I finally got to devour down my jammed throat, I could feel the scorched path they inscribed.

This continued for the whole week, where I got to learn, that I have so many relatives, and so many more people who never knew my existence were it not for the ceremony. Saw my father crying at the last rites, and as a child who did not know her grandfather properly, instead, could not help shedding a tear at my father's loss. Feeling a fierce protectiveness and getting numb thinking how I'd feel if I lost my own.

Leaving the Village life and settling back to school and town home was quite easy for me. But the occasional chirping birds in the morning and load shedding (more often than not) at home would remind me of the people back in the village, living a simple life, sleeping early as soon as daylight faded over the horizon, waking up early, hoping for a better future and a better life.

* Mutum Bindiyarani wrote this article for
The writer is currently pursuing Undergraduate Degree in Kolkata and can be contacted at bindiya(dot)mutum(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on May 07, 2014.

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